‘And, please, Alicia. No more photographs in the national papers. Your daddy has a reputation to think of.’
I disconnect the call and then hurl my phone onto the sofa, wishing I could throw something else.
‘Yeah!’ I snap, sipping my coffee.
My fingers are shaking. With exasperation, I place the cup down on the coffee table and move towards the window, staring out at Manhattan.
‘Your mom doesn’t approve of me?’
‘She doesn’t approve of me,’ I correct softly.
He wraps his arms around my waist and I close my eyes, leaning back against him, taking strength from his proximity, allowing myself to surrender to this.
‘Because of him?’
I say his name and it is as though I am invoking his spirit. I shiver at the fact that I’ve done that—that I’ve brought him into this room by speaking his name.
‘They didn’t like him?’
My lips twist in disagreement. ‘Oh, they liked him fine.’
My voice is hoarse. It isn’t the past I fear. It’s confessing to the part I played. Guilt at what I did, even when I know that I didn’t knowingly enter into an affair, colours me. I don’t want Ethan to see me as I see myself.
I don’t want him to know what I’ve done.
And yet the burden of this guilt is a weighty confession that will only be lightened by speaking.
He seems to understand. He is quiet, waiting, giving me a chance to speak.
‘They thought he was a good, sensible choice.’ I sigh. ‘He was a banker. Educated. Wealthy. Conservative. Everything they wanted for their little girl.’
Ethan’s lips buzz my cheek and a heavy smile passes over my lips.
‘But it didn’t work out?’ he prompts after a moment.
It’s a whisper. He spins me around to face him, keeping his hands on my waist, his eyes locked to mine.
I’m back in the past. ‘The first time I met him I was just...just blown away.’
A muscle jerks in Ethan’s jaw but I barely notice it.
‘We were at an art auction and we were bidding on the same piece.’ My face is shadowed with the memories I have suppressed for so long. ‘I won the piece. He won the prize.’ A pause. ‘That’s what he used to say. And you know what the worst thing is?’
‘He was trying to buy the painting for her.’
The words are torn from me and I close my eyes for a long moment, not wanting to see what I know must be on his face. Judgement. Surprise. Pity.
None of those emotions are good.
‘He was married?’
I nod slowly. ‘I didn’t know.’
‘Hell, of course you didn’t. You think I believe you’d get involved in something like that?’
His instant understanding is the last thing I expected and it’s everything I need.
‘You’re not that kind of person.’
‘I’m not that kind of person,’ I agree urgently. ‘He never told me. He didn’t wear a ring. And he was so available. I mean, I saw a lot of him. His wife travelled a heap for work, and his kids were at her mom’s a heap of the time.’ I shake my head. ‘It doesn’t change the fact that I broke up a family...’
Ethan lifts his hands to my face, cupping it and making me face him. ‘You didn’t break up a family. He did. And he broke your heart in the process.’
I nod softly. ‘And not just because I loved him—I did, Ethan.’ Colour floods my cheeks. ‘But he made me into something I despise and that took away every good memory. I have no right to look back on any of the fun we had and smile because it was all wrong. All of it.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he murmurs.
And then he kisses me. It’s a soft kiss, gentle and slow. An apology and an explanation and it’s everything I need. I surrender to it, and in that moment I am weak, because my heart surrenders too.
* * *
Later that day my assistant Lesley pops her head into my office. ‘Ally?’
I put aside the Christie’s brochure I’m leafing through and give her my attention. She’s holding a huge bunch of tulips—huge. At least one hundred flowers crammed together and wrapped in brown paper. They are my favourites.